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Satellite

When isolated thinkers and designers first explored the idea of satellite technology in the late 1940s, discussions of space-based communications relay stations were largely relegated to the realm of science fiction.

This view began changing in 1955, when a researcher from AT&T’s Bell Telephone Laboratories published an article on the potential or orbiting "repeater" stations to cut the cost of overseas communication. John Pierce—himself a past contributor to local science fiction magazines—theorized that a satellite would be capable of handling upwards of 1,000 simultaneous calls. He contrasted this with the limited 36-call capacity of the submarine cables connecting the United States to Europe.

He proposed that the United States build a simple satellite that would act as a mirror, reflecting microwave signals from one ground transmitter to another.

The $1-billion price tag was much more prohibitive, and the project more risky, than merely laying new undersea cable. It took an achievement of a Cold War enemy before the US government would partner with the private sector on such a costly venture.The USSR launched Sputnik 1 in October 1957 and, as a matter of foreign policy, democracy refused to be far behind.

In this new light, Pierce’s project was not seen as ambitious enough or functional enough to balance out the shame of being scooped by the Soviets. It took the aid of several persuasive friends, and the discovery that NASA had already created certain related technology, before the government agreed to link up with Bell Labs.

On 12 August 1960, Echo 1 was successfully launched and brought online. This touched off a new area for commercial competition in the form of a race to develop active satellite technology. While AT&T began work on the Telstar medium orbit system, RCA, the company that had won the NASA contract for the work, began a similar project called Relay.

Hughes Aircraft Company, another burgeoning aerospace firm, had been contracted by the US government to create a high-orbit satellite—Syncom—that would operate 24 hours a day.

By the mid-1960s, all of these teams had a couple of units in the sky, each delivering communications services or scientific and military data to its creators.

Canada, meanwhile, was about to become the third country on Earth to put satellite equipment into space, with the joint Canada-US launch of the 322-pound (146 kilogram) Alouette I on 29 September 1962. This satellite, though launched on the back of a US rocket, was made entirely in Canada. It had been created through the collective effort of the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment team, located in Shirleys Bay, Ottawa. Headed by John Chapman, this group designed its equipment to gather atmospheric data. The team’s success was followed, through Chapman’s ongoing efforts, by the launch of Alouette II in 1965 and ISIS I in 1969.

With confidence still high from success on the scientific front, the Canadian Government was also interested in developing its own communications technology.

After being incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1969, Telesat Canada began its work on the Anik Project. The team launched its inaugural satellite, Anik A1, on 9 November 1972, which was followed over the next decade by several new generations of increasingly powerful equipment offering services that included communications and weather monitoring.

These early efforts, spearheaded by scientists and engineers, would lay the groundwork for Canada’s technological supremacy in the decades that followed. Today, all ten provinces and three territories benefit from satellite coverage, which is of particular importance to otherwise isolated northern communities.

The ready availability of distance communication, which includes the transfer of educational materials and health information, has changed the way people do business and conduct their personal affairs.


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